Kara Simon, Assistant Account Executive
My latest obsession has been The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column and podcast. I know, I know – I am late to the game, but…
IT. IS. AWESOME.
Not only are the stories told narrated by some of my favorite celebrities, but the writing styles, narratives and key messaging are the best, bar none. I am not just saying this because I majored in journalism, or because I idolize the all-knowing publication that is The New York Times. I am saying this because it is one of the best examples of storytelling today.
In the PR industry, it is our job to tell stories. A lot of the time they are happy, positive stories about industry successes and leaders making a difference. Other times, they are hard-hitting, pulse-rising breaking stories that you never see coming. Regardless of news’ tone, if we don’t turn it into a story, then it’s just another piece of news cluttering people’s inboxes or smart devices ready to be deleted.
So what goes into the making of a good story?
First, it is important to establish your characters. In our case, these are the individuals involved. What is their title? What is their position on the topic? Most importantly though, what makes them different from every other leader in the industry? The “Modern Love” column almost always establishes the character with a background story that makes them unique. It may not be completely relevant to the story at hand, but it is designed to make the character relatable, so the reader can place themselves in the shoes of that character and be more willing to accept the story. The same should be done in PR, so that a C-level executive can be seen as someone who an “Average Joe” would want to get to know.
Secondly, the plot. What is TRULY happening? Nobody, and I mean nobody, cares about all of the tiny intricacies of an event… So get to the point. For example, the best love stories are the ones that start with the two people who fall in love interacting from the beginning. The same goes for the best PR stories. They start with the headline upfront, and then gradually give way to supporting details.
Finally, the ending. The best endings are not endings at all. In fact, they leave the reader with a “But, what’s next?” thought bubble over their head. It is how you get them to think about your story long after their eyes depart from the screen the story was on. It is how you get them to wake up the next morning still thinking about your story, and begin looking for follow-up stories that may have come out the next day. The majority of the “Modern Love” stories do this as well. The last sentence leaves you with a lingering thought that draws your mouse downward and into the next love story. So, make your ending linger for as long as you want it to be remembered.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, PR professional or not, it is that stories have a way of impacting people. So, what is yours?
Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal
There are two parts to our business: The issues-driven and reputation-focused work that is largely directed by external factors, and the marketing-driven work that can have a much longer lead time. Summer hasn’t even officially started, but we’re already well under way in planning marketing-related for activities to support the year-end holidays, and even preliminary 2018 planning. One of the big questions in our business is: How do you come up with ideas?
I recently came across two articles that addressed the ideation issue, coming at it from two different perspectives. The first article suggests that busy people need a “Shultz Hour.” Of course, that needs a bit of explanation. George Shultz, who was secretary of state in the ‘80s, carved out an hour each week to sit in his office with the door closed, with a pad of paper and pen, and thought about the strategic aspects of his job. He instructed his assistant to interrupt him only if one of two people called: The president. And perhaps equally importantly, his wife.
Shultz worked in an era before the interruptions and distractions of email, smartphones, Twitter and the like, but I’ve always been a firm believer in carving out some “alone time” to think about a creative problem or strategic issue, whether in my office, while exercising, or even if I’m just doing chores around the house.
The second article suggests a less conceptual approach to generating ideas: Washing your hands. A group of psychologists conducted a study in which individuals were instructed to focus on a goal, and then to wash their hands. After the physical act of washing their hands, they were more easily reoriented toward a subsequent goal. The physical cleansing created a psychological separation from the previous activity, enabling the individuals to focus more clearly on a new goal.
In many ways, we’re merchants of ideas. Whether great ideas come from dedicated reflection time – or from clean hands! – it’s less about the source and more about the results. What tips do you have for generating ideas?
Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal
Marketing is a young man’s game. Or so we’ve heard. We’ve also heard, “With age comes wisdom.” How to balance these divergent points of view?
Maybe the answer is in the question: It requires balance. As a society – and even as a profession – we’re quick to dismiss “older” workers. They’re not as fast. They’re out of touch with new technologies. They don’t present the image we want to portray.
And then someone comes along who not only proves us wrong, but blows these perceptions completely out of the water. Meet John Goodenough, recently profiled in the New York Times Sunday Review. His surname is a bit of a misnomer. He’s beyond “good enough.”
The batteries that power our laptops, phones, and even electric vehicles? He invented the technology. And he just filed a patent on a new kind of battery that has the potential to revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-powered vehicles. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 94?
The story of Mr. Goodenough should give us pause as an industry to re-consider our biases against middle-aged or older workers. It seems there are a few factors that stand out that suggest why this group of professionals can contribute in a way that may be different from young pros. Consider:
- Knowledge is cumulative. We pick up much of our early professional learning in college, and then integrate that with real-world experience as we begin our careers. Our minds begin absorbing knowledge, but as we venture farther out into the world, our life experiences add to our knowledge, giving us a wider and deeper level of information on which to draw.
- They think about things longer. Maybe the perception that middle-aged workers don’t move as fast as younger workers is a good thing. There’s more patience, and less of a rush to judgment. We think about things for greater periods of time, and we put things down and pick them up later, letting our minds work out potential solutions to problems or challenges, rather than running with the first answer. (Maybe that’s why we rarely see a 25-year-old judge?)
- There’s an openness to new ideas. As we gain more experience, our narrow vision slowly begins to widen, and we allow ourselves to take in convergent points of view and new ideas. It’s the natural course of evolution, but rather than a physical evolution, it’s a cognitive evolution.
Or maybe, as Mr. Goodenough posited, the real reason may be entirely different. In his own words: “You no longer worry about keeping your job.”
At the end of the day, a balanced workplace – with different generations bringing different experiences that lead to different ideas – should be the end game of what was typically thought of as the young man’s game. Are you game?
Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal
Madonna had it half right: We are living in a material world, but we are also living in a branded world. And as we face Daylight Saving Time, more than a few companies face saving-their-brand-reputation time.
- Who’s on first? Or more accurately, whose name is on first base? This week, I had to attend an event at a major sports stadium. In the past, it was easy to identify where it was: the Cowboys played in the football stadium, the Rangers played in the ballpark, etc. But I found myself stopping to pause to think about which stadium I needed to head to: the one with the phone company’s name or the airline’s name or the life insurer’s name or the soft drink’s name or the other phone company’s name? Have we reached a saturation point in venue branding? Some interesting thoughts in this article.
- Who’s sorry now? Uber apologizes. PwC apologizes. Yahoo apologizes. The Associated Press apologizes. The corporate apology follows a typical trajectory, beginning with “regret.” It all sounds very canned and corporate – and perhaps sounding like it lacks real regret. As protectors of our clients’ (internal stakeholders or external clients) reputations, have we over-mastered the corporate apology? Maybe the candid language in these corporate apologies offers lessons moving forward.
- Who’s thinking creatively now? Admit it: Every time a “holiday” approaches, you think about how you can leverage it from a marketing or communications perspective. In fact, some of what we consider to be our everyday rituals – cereal for breakfast anyone? – were born out of marketing campaigns. Take a look here.
Something to chew on … until next week.